Tuesday, 9 October 2012

A mini-challenge to round off 2012

I need a little something to finish off the year. There's a small marathon held annually in Richmond Park towards the end of November. I was asked if I wanted to run it, and I thought why the hell not. I've never run a marathon - I don't include the two Ironman shuffle-a-thons, they were all about getting to the end and not really worrying about how long it took. I haven't taken on a stand-alone marathon as a "runner". I should have a good base of fitness from this year's adventures, I'll be carrying some fatigue but I don't intend to thrash myself training, and there's still six and a half weeks until race day.

I looked up a 6-week marathon plan and adapted it to suit my needs. I've never prioritised running in my training before, so this is new. I've planned to increase duration consistently over the next few weeks, peaking with the longest run a fortnight ahead of race day. I'll aim to get my long runs done round Richmond Park to get used to the circuit again.

I'm estimating 25 minutes for parkruns. I can run them faster but I'm not sure I want to thrash myself every Saturday morning. So, the next seven weeks (I count a week as Monday to Sunday) look like this:

Week 1 (this week): 3 sessions, 2:55
Wed: 30m easy recovery run
Sat: parkrun
Sun: 2:00 Z1 Run

(Z1 = heart rate Zone 1, for me that's 151 BPM or lower, comfortable for a long run is under 145BPM)

Week 2: 4 sessions, 4:45
Wed: Run home from work (90m)
Fri: 30m easy run
Sat: parkrun
Sun: 2:20 Z1 Run

Week 3: 4 sessions, 5:35
Wed: Run home from work (90m)
Fri: 1:00 Z1 run
Sat: parkrun
Sun: 2:40 Z1 Run

Week 4: 5 sessions, 6:25
Tue: 30m easy run
Wed: Run home from work (90m)
Fri: 1:00 Z1 run
Sat: parkrun
Sun: 3:00 Z1 Run

Week 5: 5 sessions, 6:55
Tue: 1:00 easy run
Wed: Run home from work (90m)
Fri: 1:00 easy run
Sat: parkrun
Sun: 3:00 Z1 run

Week 6: 4 sessions, 4:25
Wed: Run home from work (90m)
Fri: 30m Z1 easy run
Sat: parkrun
Sun: 2:00 Z1 Run

Week 7: 5 sessions, 2:25 plus race
Tue: 30m easy run
Wed: 60m easy run
Thu: 30m easy run
Sat: parkrun (very easy, jog round, minimum of cycling)

In around this lot is some swimming, 4 mornings per week, and a little bit of cycling, but not a great deal. The focus is on good run sessions and effective recovery. According to a timing calculator I found online, given my half marathon time last weekend I should be able to hit a few seconds under 3:30 - this sounds like a seriously fast time and I'm not comfortable right now having something so aggressive as my target. I know I want to go under 4 hours, that's my minimum target, I'll wait until closer to the time to decide what my pacing is going to be. Let's see how it goes.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Race Report: Royal Parks Half Marathon

I added the Royal Parks Half Marathon on to the race calendar at the start of the year - I thought it would be fun to knock out a half after all the Ironman fun of the year. With the fitness I aimed to have acquired by this point in the year, minus a bit for fatigue form previous races, I should be able to smash out a PB.

I've run two stand-alone half marathons previously. Royal Parks in its second year, 2009, at that time the furthest I'd ever run. I clocked a hugely frustrating 2:00:05, partly as a result of losing my mind a bit, forgetting how many miles were in a half marathon, and expecting the finish to be just after the 12-mile marker. Realising I had a mile left was quite demoralising, and I found it hard to push that little bit harder to make my 2-hour target.

Then last year I ran Nike+ Run To The Beat with Mrs. We planned to jog round, and then push a bit with 5km left if we had any beans left. We posted a time of just over 2:07 on a hot sunny September day.

The only other halves I've run in race conditions are the two this year at Ironman 70.3 UK where I posted 2:06 on a really very tough course, and Ironman 70.3 Ireland where I ran a few seconds over 1:50 on a pancake flat course.

It was clear I could improve on this, and I was aiming for sub 1:45 with a dream outcome of sub 1:40. There were a couple of pace runners aiming to hit 1:40 so my plan was simple. Stick with them for as long as I possibly could. If I could hang on, great, and if I had any juice left at the end try and over take to hit that sub 1:40 dream outcome.

The beautiful course takes in a number of the Royal Parks, and some great London landmarks

I set off in front of the 1:40 pacers, and after 1km one of them came flying past me. I hadn't realised I'd started slowly, so thought I'd better jump on the 1:40 bus as it trundled past. The next km passed in 4:24 - this was a bit nuts, that's not far off my parkrun pace, and those are only 5km. There was a lot of concerned chatter in the group about how fast he was going. 4:44 per km should hit 1:40, 4:24 would get us there in a bit under 1:33, and there's no way I can manage that!

I hung on for a bit, and after 5km he had slowed a little, but was still going a bit too hard. We thought we should tell him, but no one wanted to use the effort to catch him up! He realised and slowed considerably, we put in a 4:58km back in Hyde Park just before half way. About this time the other 1:40 pacer joined us. I jumped into his group instead (as the one I was following pulled away again) - this guy was metronomic. He was checking his watch every mile and at 8 miles was 5s up on his target.

My pacing wasn't too bad in the end, even a slight lift at the end

I was finding it tougher as I moved into the last third, but was still hanging on. From 11 miles on the pacer would slowly pull away, and I'd have to put an effort in to join him again. This happened a few times and each catch-up was harder than the last.

The course ends with a long drag across the bottom of Hyde Park. This time as he pulled away up the gentle rise past the Albert Memorial I couldn't hang on. My heart rate was through the roof, it had been above functional threshold since about kilometre 10, and my legs and arms were singing from the build up of lactic acid - I certainly can't be accused of not trying.

Heart rate - the only way is up, baby!

I crossed the line in 1:40:31, taking 19 minutes and 46 seconds off my previous stand-alone half marathon PB, and 10 minutes off the fastest half I've run in competition. I can't complain about that! I know 1:40 is in within easy reach, next time I'll smash that, and maybe even think about trying for 1:35.

I'll probably run this race next year too. I enjoy the course, the support is excellent, and it makes a good performance benchmark towards the end of the season. In order to hit my Ironman 70.3 objectives I think I need to be able to hit 1:30. That's quite a target, but I reckon I can do it. Whether I can hit it next season or not though remains to be seen...